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How to Select A PC Case
January 21 2008

How to Select a PC Case

Selecting a new computer chassis can be a daunting task if you do not know what you're looking for. The current selection out there in the market is overwhelming for most newcomers to building their own computers. Unfortunately, most of the time, inexperienced builders end up selecting some of the worst computer cases because they base their buying decision strictly on either looks of the case, or just how many drive bays they need. However there is so much more to selecting the correct case for your computer components.

Another common mistake from inexperienced builders is picking a cheap case with an included (usually no name) power supply and they think they're getting a "deal". There is actually only a few rare instances in the market where the included power supply is actually a good one. ANTEC being one of the few, if not only, exceptions there is as they tend to include high quality power supplies on a large number of their new cases.

The basic sizes for a home computer today are desktop/HTPC, micro-tower, mid-tower, and full or server tower. The majority of standard ATX users will fit into the mid-tower range. Let's take a look at some of the differences.


(Left to Right) Desktop/HTPC, Micro-Tower, Mid-Tower, and Full-Tower

Case Selection:

 The "bigger is better" mantra is not always the right way to go in my opinion. Too big of a case is usually a waste of space and too small could cause massive headaches with either installation or cooling. Ideally you want a computer case that's just the right size for your hardware with some room for expansion.

Where you're going to be placing your new computer case is of utmost importance also. Are you going to be stuffing it under the desk behind a door and out of sight, or will you be placing up on top of your desk in plain sight? If the case is going to get stuffed under a desk behind a door than looks won't be that important to you, however cooling should be. You'll want something with good cooling and fan filters to keep some of that dust out of your rig.

Do you sleep in close proximity to your computer? If so, you'll probably be looking towards a "quiet" case so it doesn't keep you up at night. You'll also want something without blinding LED's shooting beams of light across the room.

Will you be moving your case around from place to place? If so, you'll probably be looking more a case with aluminum construction as it's much lighter than the steel variations. "Lan" cases as they're sometimes called are great for moving around from place to place and sometimes even come with their own carry strap.

Tool-less cases are also great for tweakers because they can easily swap drives in and out. Not to mention most tool-less cases have side panel handles to easily allow you access into the case.

Airflow:

Airflow is absolutely critical in your new computer case whether you're running 4yr old hardware or the latest and greatest. Good CPU coolers, and video card coolers are essential, but just as important is getting all that hot air out of the case, and as efficiently as possible.

My personal favorite are 120mm fans. I prefer a positive airflow setup and what that means is there is more air being drawn into the case than there is being exhausted from the case. Why is that good? Well, it will not only be pushing cool air from outside the case in, it will also force air out all the little cracks in the case (i.e. between optical drives and case panels) therefore reducing dust buildup in those areas.

If you have a negative case pressure setup, then air is being drawn in from every crack in the case and dust accumulates at those areas in a much shorter time. Make sense? I hope so.

So, say you have a 120mm front intake fan, and a 120mm rear exhaust fan, don't forget the power supply exhaust fan which will bring into a negative airflow scenario. If you were too add a side mounted 80mm (or larger) intake fan over the PCI cards or CPU area, you'd greatly even out the airflow in the case. Just try to keep in mind that what's getting pulled out of the case, you want to have going into the case. A case with nothing but exhaust fans will be a massive dust collector for one thing, but it also won't be getting any cool outside air into the case. What goes out, must come in and what comes in, must go out.

Case Materials:

 Case construction is another important aspect of the buying decision. We all know that a case already filled with it's hardware is going to be pretty darn heavy, but add a steel case to the mix, especially a larger steel case and you've got yourself a case of back pain waiting to happen. A typical aluminum case might weigh between 10lbs-15lbs. A typical steel case might weigh 30lbs. That's empty!

  If you're a constant upgrader and someone who's always tinkering inside the case, then you'll want something that easy to move around. If you don't pay attention and you get yourself a huge steel case, you'll probably be very sorry for your purchase. Aluminum cases are the rage in the market today and just about every big name manufacturer has a few in their lineup.

Things to Look for when Buying a Case:

  • Size - Does it have enough drive bays for your hardware?

  • Format - Is it micro-ATX or standard ATX?

  • Construction - Is it aluminum or steel?

  • Cooling - Does it have good airflow design?

  • Usability - Is it tool-less or not?

  • Power Supply - Is it included or can you add your own?

  • Bling - This should be last and is completely a personal choice.

If you look into all aspects of the new case you're purchasing, you should never be disappointed. Do your homework, read reviews and find as many pictures of the case as you can. It pays to do your research and I never buy anything until I know everything about it first! Good luck with your new case and if you have any questions on cases or cooling, you can check out the VH Forums for more information.